Category Archives: General

Check out an easier way to whip a rope that holds much better!

Preventing the ends of rope from fraying is a process referred to as “whipping.” Learning how to whip the ends of a rope is one of the early requirements on the Scouts BSA advancement trail.

Indeed there are many approaches to whipping a rope, but the one that’s used for the hundreds of lashing ropes in the pioneering area at national jamborees, as well as the 2019 World Jamboree, is known as the West Country Whipping. What’s so special about this whipping? The answer is simple. It’s easy to teach and easy to tie, and most importantly, it’s easy to make tight! Hence, Scouts learn it more quickly and like it much better.

1. Start by tying a half knot, the way you would start a square knot, near the rope’s end.

2. Continue by carrying the two ends of the whipping cord around the back of the rope, away from you, and tie another half knot identical to the first.

3. Keep repeating the half knots, front and back, pulling each one tight.

4. Form each half knot the same way, either right over left, or left over right, so they interlock neatly together, and snug against the previous half knot.

5. Continue the process until the whipping is as wide as the rope’s diameter.

6. Finish off with a tight square knot.

7. Finally, the excess cord is trimmed. VIEW THE HOW-TO VIDEO

—> Sailmaker’s Whipping (stays put even under hard use)

Delivering the Goods

Of course you’ve gotta love this (and all) Norman Rockwell paintings, but this one is always timely, and perhaps now more than ever. The kind of Scouting adventure that younger Scouts can look forward to needs to be evidenced by the troops they observe. And then of course, that “Promise of Scouting” NEEDS to be delivered!

Membership in what used to be called the Boy Scouting division is down, and has been diminishing for many years. With the advent of girls joining what is now referred to as Scouts BSA, there’s still a VERY IMPORTANT principle that should never be (and should never have been) neglected. That is: troops should actively engage in, and on a regular basis demonstrate in the public eye, timeless, traditional outdoor skills.

Just like for the Cub Scout depicted in the painting, it’s these traditional outdoor adventures that embody the promise of Scouting, and experiencing them require the acquisition of the basic, and always relevant skills. Obviously, when the youngster in the painting is old enough to join those older guys, he’s going to have numerous experiences that give rise to rich Scouting memories. And, he won’t drop out. Why would he? Look at the size of those actively involved individuals clad in khaki! And, look how they’re actively involved in an experience laced with challenges and fun!

The Diamond Hitch

The Diamond Hitch was many times more prevalent a couple of decades past, and was featured throughout a range of Scout publications. It’s not actually associated with Scout Pioneering, but it’s still an example of nifty rope work. Though there’s not nearly as many packboards in use today, the Diamond Hitch still can serve as the most practical approach to securing a bundle to an object, even in today’s modern world of bungee cords and the like. The following diagram and description was scanned from the ’76 printing of the 1967 Fieldbook.

What Pioneering Merit Badge SHOULD Be!

“Pioneering is practical and character building: the two essential ingredients of any program material for Scouts.” (Lord Baden-Powell)

Mew Top Montage

Pioneering Merit Badge, which as we all know used to be required for Eagle, should give Scouts a taste of pioneering! Of course they should be taught about safety and gain some general knowledge, but much more importantly, they should be introduced to the Scouting traditions and the fun that this activity embodies. They should DO pioneering!

SIngle Trestle Montage

Taking part in building pioneering projects contributes to the development of self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment. It necessitates working hard and working together towards a common goal. Besides being really cool and impressing people in and out of Scouting, building a real pioneering structure requires the mastery of a set of useful Scout skills that can be applied over a lifetime of outdoor activities—activities for both work and recreation.

A-Frame Bridge 5

Pioneering Merit Badge should be presented as a series of planned challenges and opportunities leading up to memorable experiences that are rewarding and unique. The recipients of this merit badge should be inspired to share their acquired skills and the fun they had with other Scouts in their unit.

Bridge Building

As Gilwell Park Camp Chief, John Thurmann  stated, “To me, the over-riding reason for presenting Pioneering is that boys like it. There are few activities which, properly presented, have a greater appeal to the Scout than Pioneering and ever since the introduction of Wood Badge training, Pioneering has been given a full share in the program of Scouters’ training. In the summer months when Scouters at Gilwell are building bridges, towers, and rafts, and boys are in camp, it has been all too common to hear from the boys such remarks as, ‘I wish we did that in our Troop’ or ‘We never do anything like that’.”

Tower Montage

But there are reasons for Pioneering other than the fact that Scouts like doing it. B.-P. wrote: “I am inclined to suggest to Scouters that in addition to the technical details of knotting, lashing, and anchorages, there is an educative value in Pioneering since it gives elementary training in stresses, mensuration, etc., and it also develops initiative and resourcefulness to use local material. Additionally, it gives practice in team work and discipline.” In other words, (“Pioneering is practical and character building: the two essential ingredients of any program material for Scouts.”)

CHippewa Montage

Japanese Mark II Square Lashing in Boy Scout Handbook!

After being excluded in all previous editions, the 13th Edition of The Boy Scout Handbook features the Japanese Mark II Square Lashing—a very good thing! Referred to simply as “The Mark II Square Lashing,” it’s included along with the other lashings in Chapter 12.

Many different things, both big and small, contribute to increasing the BSA’s rate of retention. In its own seemingly small, but unique and interesting way, this lashing is an actual example. On several occasions, I’ve heard adults and older Scouts remark they wish they knew this lashing when they were a Scout or when they were younger—and if they had, they would have done more pioneering. When it comes to pioneering, the Mark II Square Lashing increases Scouts’ willingness, receptivity, and most of all ability to readily become active in this timeless Scouting activity. Troops definitely become more able to embrace the many rewarding Pioneering Skill Challenges that contribute to making Scout meetings fun with positive outcomes.

Compared to the clove hitch method, Scouts love it. It’s much more simple to tie and some declare it’s even easier to make tight. After he attended a pioneering training session at the 2015 NOAC at Michigan State University, celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the Order of the Arrow, one appreciative adult, who had not yet been acquainted with this lashing was heard to remark, “If I gain nothing else during the week, the fact I learned this lashing will be enough.”

The sad part has been, during district, council and area events, simply because they tied a lashing that wasn’t in the handbook, Scouts have been disqualified, penalized, and even insulted, resulting in confusion, hurt feelings, and disillusionment. That’s why, in the 13th edition there should be absolutely no doubt that the Mark II Square Lashing IS a square lashing and NOT an “alternative to the square lashing.” (first printing page 374) That way when it’s stipulated that square lashings are required for a Scouting competition, there’s no confusion! Any Scout or Scouter involved in the building of pioneering projects throughout the year tie square lashings all the time. To most all of them, the Mark II Square Lashing is what is tied whenever a square lashing is tied. Period. For many, that’s how it’s been for all their years as an adult volunteer—happily involved in unit to national-level pioneering programs.

The following is a copy of what was initially submitted through the Boy Scout Development Task Force as an addition to or replacement for page 396 in the 12th Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. (What’s included in the first printing of the 13th edition has no photographs, but the content is correctly presented.):

Mark II

The Guided Discovery Process

The following piece was composed for a BSA ScoutCast. The concept applies admirably to pioneering when Scouts, who have the proper “tools” and are capable and ready, care to embrace the construction of any-size pioneering project.

splThe Guided Discovery Process is a fancy term for what? Guided Discovery is an approach where Scouts are asked a question which leads them to examine a situation, and then discover the best way to proceed. Put another way, Guided Discovery enables Scouts to think for themselves in order to solve problems and find solutions. This approach is Scout-based. By Scout-based I mean the focus is on the learning and the Scout, not on the teaching and the teacher.

Asking a question is a big part of this process. Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers. The idea is, the right kind of question is going to get the Scouts thinking. It’s their thinking that leads them through a path of discovery where they can figure out for themselves what they need to do.

When Scouts are faced with a challenge or have a problem, it’s natural they’ll frequently have there own questions. But with Guided Discovery, we, don’t just spoon feed them the answer. Instead, in order to guide them through this path of discovery, we present them with a counter question—a question which requires them to find their best answer by applying what they know, using their resources, and coming to their own valuable conclusion. And why is their conclusion so valuable? It’s, because whatever a Scout learns through a process of discovery is his. It’s something he’s arrived at through his own efforts. So, he owns it.

Guided discovery as a process. There’s a lot that junior leaders have to go through before they can take the reins and run the troop. All through their ranks and as they mature, Scouts are gaining knowledge. Not just facts, but skills and techniques too. Let’s talk about a brand new troop where we want to enable the newly elected SPL to run things. With the Guided Discovery Process, the first thing he needs is a vision. He’s can be given a picture of a troop that’s involved with an exciting program that reflects what they want, they’re learning, they’re advancing and they’re having a lot of fun. And also, everything’s planned and carried out by them. In this vision, the only time the Scoutmaster’s in front of them is for a minute at the end of the meeting. The rest of the time, it’s all up to them.

Now once the Scout is given a vision like this, the second thing he needs is the strong desire to make it happen. We’ll assume he already has desire, that he’s motivated to be an effective Senior Patrol Leader.

The third necessary thing any junior leader needs are the prerequisite tools to carry out their job. And here, it’s the Scoutmaster’s responsibility to make sure they learn or at least have access to all these necessary tools. For example, the new SPL needs to know that putting up the Scout sign is a means to getting the troop’s attention. This is a basic tool. Now, discovering how to use this tool most effectively, that’s something else. See, this is a technique. And techniques can be gained… through Guided Discovery.

Back to the Scout sign. Like maybe the SPL had a terrible time at a meeting to get his troop quiet when he held up the sign. After the meeting, the Scoutmaster might ask,  “So, how do you think things went tonight? Were you able to control the troop the way you’d like?” And the SPL might answer, “The troop doesn’t ever really get quiet when the sign goes up.” The Scoutmaster might then ask a guiding question like, “Well, when you hold up the sign, what do you think the Scouts see?” Now, after mulling this over, if the SPL just scratches his head, the Scoutmaster might ask, “What do you want them to see?” That question should serve to further guide him and get his wheels turning.

Through this process, he can start zooming in and find his own answer. If he pictures the troop as he’s holding up the sign, he might remember how even some of his own leaders were still carrying on. Ah-ha!  There’s a key! He’s gotta make it clear to his leaders that as soon as he puts up his sign, they need to quickly get quiet and put up theirs. This way, the rest of the troop is going to have a good example to follow. What’s important here is that he comes to the conclusion on his own. He was guided to find a solution for himself. but it’s actually his discovery. See how this is different than just telling him the Patrol Leaders Council leads by example!?

So through guided discovery, a junior leader can find the solution to his problem and gain needed techniques. Learning these techniques by discovering them is a way he can make these techniques his own. You know what I mean? When he finds a solution to his own problem, through his own efforts, he owns that solution!

So, now as he gains techniques, he can use them to do a good job. And this is good. Because doing a good job gives him confidence. And with confidence, a motivated junior leader can start using his own initiative to make everything better. Junior leaders using initiative is amazing. All I can say is, when this happens, it’s awesome! (So the process? A vision, a desire, the tools, the techniques to use them, gaining confidence, and finally using initiative.)

How does a Scoutmaster shift the attention off himself as the leader to the Senior Patrol Leader? When a Scoutmaster is approached by the SPL with a question or problem, with guided discovery, he won’t just dole out hard and fast answers. Instead, again, he asks a counter question. “This is your troop. What do you think needs to be done?”  If it’s not a matter of health and safety, then reflecting the situation back onto the SPL with a question, is shifting the attention off of himself. As for the rest of the troop, have you ever seen T-shirts for the adults with the back saying, “Ask the Senior Patrol Leader?” I even came across a little, round, patrol medallion sized patch for a Scouter’s right sleeve saying, “ask the SPL.”

How does the Scoutmaster instill his knowledge to the Senior Patrol Leader? Well, first, by inspiring him with a shared vision, and of course encouraging him whenever appropriate, then by providing him with all the necessary resources so he can do things independently. Along the way, the Scoutmaster serves as a mentor, but a Scoutmaster really needs to lead by following one step behind. Can you picture that? That means, he knows where the SPL and the troop are heading and what they need, but from there, he enables them to discover things on their own.

Some other examples of the Guided Discovery Process. The December, 2015 Scoutcast addressed the advantages of always having a Plan B.  Plan-B-Prepared. A perfect example of a Guided Discovery question that will get a Scout thinking is: “What if?” Asking Scouts questions beginning with what if is a good way to get them thinking about alternatives and also getting them to develop their troop’s resources.

Here’s a couple more guided discovery scenarios: Recently, I videoed a troop and saw two Scouts carry a third through a 4-foot wide track as part of an activity. Are you familiar with Handicap Obstacle Course? Anyway, these two Scouts really struggled to carry the third. They hadn’t learned the “two handed carry?” or the “four-handed seat?” Now, after their struggle, it could just be explained to them how to do these carries. But, it would be better to ask them, “How would you like to find out how to carry an injured person a whole lot easier, even if he was heavier?” and then guide them: “Where can you see how to do this in your own handbooks?” They’re most likely gonna want to check this out, because after what they just went through, they’re definitely ready to learn something better than what they did, but the emphasis is on them to discover it themselves, and that’s what carries a whole lot more weight. See, when we pour ourselves into finding our own solutions, we become invested in the process. When someone makes an investment, they’re much more likely to feel involved. Like, think about this:  Won’t you be much more likely to read a book if you buy it, as opposed to someone just giving it to you?

Another scenario, and I like this one, is about using woods tools to prepare tinder and kindling and then build and light a fire. As Scout leaders, before a Scout tries anything where safety enters the picture, we must make sure they have the necessary tools. In this case, the prerequisite tools are knowing how to safely use woods-tools, and knowing how to be careful with fire. So, here’s a Scout who we observe knows how to properly use a knife and axe, and he’s prepared all the tinder and kindling he needs to start and feed a cooking fire. He’s got everything he needs, a safe area, a proper surface, a fire bucket nearby, but, before he tries to light a fire, he mixes together all his tinder and kindling into the fire pit, and then, try as he will, each time he puts a match to this mess, it goes out. He finds he can’t light a fire. He wants to, right? But he’s come face to face with a stumbling block, and he recognizes this. He’s definitely ready to learn what needs to be done next. But, using guided discovery means we don’t show him how to do it, and we don’t hover over him providing guidance every step of the way either. He needs to get actively involved with learning how to do this, himself. Remember, with this approach, it’s all about the learning, not the teaching. Guided Discovery happens when we ask questions. Here, we might ask something like, “Why do you think this fire won’t stay lit?” Let him think about this. A follow up question might be, “Looking at all your tinder and kindling here, what will burn the easiest when you touch a match to it?” The Scout will naturally answer the light weight stuff—the tinder. Now, after getting him thinking about what needs to be done, he should be given the opportunity to explain what he’s going to do, and if his explanation is good, then let him do it.

How does a Scoutmaster know what his role is?  In Scoutmaster Position Specific Training, after being introduced to Scouting’s Aims and Methods, right before looking at the Patrol Method, there’s a 20 minute session where the qualities of a Scoutmaster are discussed as well as basically what a Scoutmaster’s role is— what he must be, what he must know, and what he should and shouldn’t do. Also, in the Troop Leader Guidebook Volume 1, Chapter 15, it’s called “Adult Leader Roles and Responsibilities.” It’s very well spelled out.

Are there any resources available to assist Scoutmasters and Advisors on how to facilitate leadership? Beyond Scoutmaster Position Specific Training, Woodbadge goes more deeply into communication and leadership. But additionally, when it comes to assuring junior leaders are successful, I really feel IntroductIon to Leadership Skills for Troops serves as an invaluable resource. There are also some books out there that are all about Youth Leadership Training and Working the Patrol Method, and they’re filled with really good stuff. And, here’s one more good resource—Scout leaders who themselves have well run, successful troops. Most any Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster, who’s passionate about what he does, loves to talk about his troop, especially when it comes to talking about what his Scouts do to run things well.

Additional Information Let’s refer to the three basic roles of the Scoutmaster (1) of course, is to make sure the rules of the BSA and chartered partner are followed, (2) is the Scoutmaster should be a good mentor and positive role model, and the big (3) and this is where we’re placing the emphasis, is to train and guide Scout leaders. The Guided Discovery Process does this, by asking the right kinds of questions, and then getting out of the way.

1) Guided discovery provides the framework within which, Scouts can lead themselves to realize a vision they have.”

2) Provide the Scouts the objective, equip them with the tools and the skills or the resources to learn how to use them, and turn them loose.”

3) Scouts will learn to lead by practicing leading and experiencing the results of their hands-on leadership efforts.”

4) Why” and “How” questions enhance the Scouts’ ability to make decisions, which is one of the central goals of empowerment.”

Don’t you love the word empowerment? When Scouts run their own troop, they’ve been empowered to do this. A troop run by motivated Scouts who have with the right skills, and techniques, is bound to have good membership and the highest retention rate.


Consistency, anyone?

This short commentary is one part surmise and three parts observation. It’s composed of a series of events with a predictable outcome. Except to those familiar with Scout Pioneering, and Scout competitions, the whole scenario will appear obscure. But to the Scouts involved, it’s far from obscure. On the contrary, whenever something like this happens, it’s downright confusing, and without being melodramatic, maybe a little traumatic too. No real names are used in this account, and no fingers are being pointed at any individuals. The characters in stories like this are always well-intentioned and without malice. There are no wrongdoers involved… just victims.

Scout Pioneering is about building structures with poles and rope. They can be useful, they can be for fun, and often they’re both. Knowing how to tie knots and lashings is a basic Scouting skill that’s been a part of our movement for over a hundred years. In all bonafide Scout Pioneering settings, when two poles cross each other, but do not touch, a Diagonal Lashing is often used to spring the poles together. The lashing is so-named, because the wraps run diagonal to the poles. Additionally, those who are experienced in building pioneering structures accept the fact that joining two poles together that cross from 45º to 90º calls for a Square Lashing. There’s more contact between the rope and the poles than with a Diagonal Lashing, and hence a Square Lashing provides a better hold. The Square Lashing gets its name from the fact the wraps run square to the poles. The name has nothing to do with at what angle the poles cross.

Enter “Ned”: Without knowing any better, Ned, a well-meaning Scouting volunteer, reasons quite innocently the Diagonal Lashing should be used whenever Scouts join two poles that cross each other at less than a perpendicular angle. So from this viewpoint, which, because of its name, appears logical, Ned concludes Scouts should use Diagonal Lashings when making an A-frame. After all, the angles formed by the poles are less than 90º. Without any real, hands on exposure to pioneering, he’s not familiar with the fact the lashing is reserved for springing two poles together when they cross but don’t touch. To him, his assumption about the lashing is obvious. He proceeds to write up a description of a Scouting activity featuring his misunderstanding about the use of Diagonal Lashings. Since he’s an intelligent, well-respected Scouter…somehow, it get’s printed, and then again reprinted, in official BSA publications.

Enter the “Raccoon Patrol”: As part of a troop that regularly embraces large pioneering projects, the Raccoon Patrol is well-versed in building A-frames. During inter-patrol competitions at Scout meetings, they do well in A-frame Chariot Races. On outings they build camp see-saws where the roller bar for the plank is supported by two heavy duty A-frames. They have also helped to build several monkey bridges relying on sturdy A-frames as sub assemblies. Belonging to a unit with a successful pioneering program, they’ve been taught to make their A-frames using three Japanese Mark II Square Lashings. In addition to being supported in certain BSA publications, their grasp of Scouting skills stems from Scouters who’ve served on the pioneering staff at national jamborees and who, themselves, have learned from some of the most esteemed Scout Pioneering legends.

Enter “Nancy”: On staff at summer camp, Nancy volunteers to conduct an A-frame Chariot Race as part of the camp-wide skills event towards the end of the week. Her reference material is one of the BSA publications containing Ned’s well-meaning misconception, directing Scouts to construct an A-frame using Diagonal Lashings. Without any real experience putting together an A-frame, she’s basing her thinking on what she has read. Furthermore, since the content is featured in an official publication, she requires each patrol taking part in the activity to build their A-frame in just that way.

Reenter the “Raccoon Patrol”: Participating in the camp-wide competition, the Raccoons confidentially arrive at Nancy’s station, all revved up to be the fastest patrol in the A-frame Chariot Race. Nancy proceeds to explain her rules for putting together the A-frame, which immediately confuses the Raccoons. In their attempt to comply, they bungle the Diagonal Lashings, something they seldom use. At the top, they ask if they can tie a Square Lashing in lieu of a Shear Lashing, and Nancy acquiesces. But, they are further penalized because Nancy insists that if they’re going to tie a Square Lashing, it must start and end with a Clove Hitch. She has never seen or heard of a Japanese Mark II Square Lashing. It isn’t in the official publication she is using as her reference. At that point, the Raccoon’s performance is so poor, they don’t even bother to race. With disgruntled comments, they leave Nancy’s station. They are hurt and bewildered.

Are these kinds of scenarios rare at Scout skill events? The answer is, no. They take place at Boy Scout summer camps, district and council camporees, and OA conclaves. Scouts have been penalized, disqualified, and even politely insulted by facilitators who base their event’s rules on material that contradicts what some may have adopted from other official publications. This is a sad state of affairs. Scouts become frustrated, angry, and disillusioned—feelings that shouldn’t obtain at a Scouting event.

What about this conflicting information presented in different official publications? Are there ways around the confusion? The answer is, yes. At the time of this writing, a national task force is taking steps to assure the publications all provide compatible information pertaining to Scout skills—approaches that are sensible, practical, and proven to be the most efficient. This is a lengthy process and will take time. Everything that appears in official BSA publications should be exemplary, but change happens slowly. Until Scout skills are presented consistently across the board, the following is felt to be an advisable practice: during inter-troop, district, or council events, in competitions like the A-frame Chariot Race, let the patrols complete the challenge in anyway they can. Don’t permit their efforts to be circumscribed by a rigid set of exacting rules. As long as what they build is safe and gets the job done, the Scouts should be allowed to experience success.

Plastic Tarp: No Grommets

No Grommets 2
Plastic Sheet Shelters

In the light that Pioneering has been referred to as “Scout Engineering,” many projects can be considered a pioneering-related venture when Scouts are confronted with fashioning and building something requiring intelligent use of their resources, consideration of angles, trajectory, and some campcraft skills.

Erecting a little A-Frame tent using a plastic sheet that has no grommets is a nifty challenge and just such an opportunity. Each individual, or pair of Scouts, can simply be furnished with a plastic sheet and some line for their guylines and directed to have at it and give it a go. Alternatively, Scouts can be provided all the following materials:

  • a 6’x6’ plastic sheet
  • six smooth stones
  • six short guylines (four 3′ lengths for the corners, and two 9′ lengths for the front and back. Paracord does the trick just fine fine.)
  • six stakes
  • a mallet
  • two 4’ poles for the uprights
A Plastic Sheet Shelter Campsite
A Plastic Sheet Shelter Campsite

Not DIRECTIVES, just suggestions:  Secure the stone to the plastic using a Roundturn with Two Half Hitches. Attach the front and back guylines to the upright poles using an Open End Clove Hitch with an additional Half Hitch.

Scouting is Both!

Laced throughout the Scouting adventure is the building of good character, training in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and the development of leadership and personal fitness. Contributing to these positive outcomes are numerous experiences that are uniquely fun yielding a host of treasured memories that last a lifetime.

Scouting features a wide array of challenges, activities, and avenues of discovery. In such a multifaceted program there are opportunities to learn about subjects as diverse as on one hand: rocketry and robotics and on the other hand: wilderness survival and pioneering. Scouting is both the new and the old, the modern and the traditional, the innovative and the timeless!

Link to: Larger Image


Link to: Larger Image


Link to: Larger Image

The Den Chief

I know I’m a hopeless romantic, and I’m aware that I shouldn’t let what I think and feel be the empirical measure for the thoughts and feelings of others. But, I love to share, and the memories of my Den Chief, and much of Scouting, are embodied in Norman Rockwell’s paintings.

When I was a Cub Scout, I had fun. I did fun things with my den, I could earn badges and receive recognition, and I loved the uniform which made me feel important and gave me a sense of belonging. In and through my Cub Scout career, there was a sense that I was steadily approaching something wonderful. It was up ahead, and it promised new experiences…real life adventures! The glimpses I had in Boys Life Magazine, and actually seeing an older person in his green uniform, like my Den Chief, portended new heights of discovery—experiences about which I could only vaguely begin to imagine. I knew there would be unparalleled thrills and excitement, albeit from my vantage point, they were all shrouded in an aura of mystery and intrigue. What was gradually welling up in me was the realization—someday I would actually become a Boy Scout!

"The Den Chief"—My Idol!
“The Den Chief”—My Idol!

Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts—here’s the major difference: In Cub Scouts boys might use sticks and string to make a little model of a bridge, and in Boy Scouts, young men can learn how to use rope and spars and build a real one.

Campcraft Activities, Patrol Challenges, and Troopwide Games

Scout Meeting Activities

Related to Scout Pioneering are a variety of campcraft challenges that can be incorporated into the troop meeting agenda. A relevant upside is, these activities require putting skills into action that were gained during instructional sessions. Appropriately, these skills come into play in a way that is challenging and fun.

Link to: Flagpole Race
A Fun Interpatrol Activity: Nothing Succeeds like Success!

Of course, campcraft encompasses more than just Pioneering, though Pioneering is often central to the rewarding experience inherent in Scouting’s outdoor program. The campcraft challenges in this post also include activities related to general knotting, woods tools, fire building, navigation, and some first aid Scout skills too.

Healthy competition between patrols can have a positive outcome when handled in the right spirit. Naturally, when patrol makeup is homogenous, there’s more of a level playing field. But, when patrols are organized by age, to compensate for the difference in skill levels, certain handicaps might be introduced. In this instance or when individual patrol attendance is disproportionate, dividing the troop into equal crews is also always a practical approach.

Scoring and points are arbitrary—no hard, fast rule. Keeping track of patrol points for these activities (and awarding points for various other criteria) can be adopted and contribute towards patrol spirit. But, the presentation of the activities themselves carry their own rewards translating into involvement, enthusiasm, and fun.

The USEFUL Scout Stave

A Bundle of Scout Staves
A Bundle of Scout Staves

For those interested in starting a pioneering program in their unit, it’s often suggested that one of the first things to procure is a supply of Scout Staves. The BSA Supply Division’s Scout Hiking Staff is still the best deal on the market for Scout Staves. Item: Number 1443 on

  1. They’re very practical for teaching lashings.
  2. They can be used for a variety of involving and fun interpatrol competitions and Scout meeting challenges
  3. They’re exceedingly useful on outings

A SCOUT STAFF, by Robert Baden-Powell:

“The Scout staff is a useful addition to the kit of the Scout. Personally, I have found it an invaluable assistant when traversing mountains or boulder-strewn country and especially in night work in forest or bush. Also, by carving upon it various signs representing his achievements, the staff gradually becomes a record as well as a treasured companion to the Scout.

“The Scout staff is a strong stick about as high as your nose, marked in feet and inches for measuring. The staff is useful for all sorts of things, such as making a stretcher, keeping back a crowd, jumping over a ditch, testing the depth of a river, keeping in touch with the rest of your Patrol in the dark. You can help another Scout over a high wall if you hold your staff horizontally between your hands and make a step for him; he can then give you a hand from above. Several staves can be used for building a light bridge, a hut or a flag staff. There are many other uses for the staff. In fact, you will soon find that if you don’t have your staff with you, you will always be wanting it. If you get the chance, cut your own staff. But remember to get permission first.”

1. Flagpole / 2. Camp Gadget: Dish Washing Rack / 3. Uprights for Improvised Shelter / 4. Lashing Instruction / 5. Uprights for Dining Fly / Interpatrol Competition: Flag Raising Race / 7. Camp Gadget: Shear Legs for Clothes Dryer / 8. Interpatrol Competition: Catch the Snapper / 9. Interpatrol Competition: New Market Ballistas / 10. Walking Stick / 11. Camp Gadget: Simple Table / 12. Camp Gadget: Clothes Drying Rack / 13. Camp Gadget: Tool Rack / 14. Round Lashing Activity / 15. Interpatrol Competition: Free-Standing Flagpole / 16. Interpatrol Competition: (Catch the Snapper)
1. Flagpole / 2. Camp Gadget: Dish Washing Rack / 3. Uprights for Improvised Shelter / 4. Lashing Instruction / 5. Uprights for Dining Fly / Patrol Challenge: Flagpole Race / 7. Camp Gadget: Shear Legs for Clothes Dryer / 8. Patrol Challenge: Catch the Snapper / 9. Patrol Challenge: Scout Stave Launcher / 10. Walking Stick / 11. Camp Gadget: Simple Table / 12. Camp Gadget: Clothes Drying Rack / 13. Camp Gadget: Tool Rack / 14. Round Lashing Activity / 15. Patrol Challenge: Free-Standing Flagpole / 16. Patrol Challenge: (Catch the Snapper)

Some Camp Gadgets made with Scout Staves.

Scroll down for a page from the “Patrol Sketchbook” pertaining to Scout Staves in the comments section. 

Durable Atomic Pile

Suggested Materials

  • 4    10′ x 3″ spars for corner uprights
  • 4    12′ x 2″ spars for lateral supports
  • 12  6″-diameter wooden discs, four of them painted with the numeral “5,” four with “10,” and four with “20”
  • 1    6″-diameter log, 20″ long with a large eye hook on one end and a flat, even surface on the other
  • 4    single pulleys
  • 4    40′ lengths of 1/4″ braided nylon cord for the pulleys
  • 4    3′ lengths of 1/8″ nylon cord to attach pulleys to the corner uprights
  • 8    15′ x 1/4″ manila lashing ropes for lashing the lateral support spars to the corner uprights

Set the parameters. Lay the four lateral spars on the ground in a square where you want to position the Atomic Pile. Overlap the ends about 4″ so there will be room to lash them to the corner uprights. Drive a small stake into the ground on the inside of where the ends intersect. This is where the holes for the corner spars need to be dug.

Prepare the corner spars. Using a post hole digger, dig the holes about two feet into the ground at the spots marked by the four small stakes. Make sure the holes are the same depth so the tips of the spars come up to the same height. Before actually placing the corner uprights into their holes, attach the pulley to each with the 40′ cord reeved through. Tie the inside end of each cord to eye hook of the log using a Roundturn With Two Half Hitches.

Attach the “boundary poles.” After placing each upright into its hole, with the pulleys facing the center of the square, and firmly tamping them in for solid support, tightly lash on the four lateral support spars about belly high.




A Resurgence of Traditional Scout Skills in the BSA

I maintain, the MAJORITY of today’s Scouts love the kind of woodsy activities that provide old-fashioned, outdoor fun that’s involving and challenging. I further maintain MOST members of our organization feel camping and backpacking in the great outdoors are Scouting’s MAIN attraction. Even today, with all the appeal of the internet and advances in technology, Scouting is still outing—the kind of outing done primarily in wooded areas surrounded by nature. There’s simply no app for the experiences and memories born in that setting.

Of course, the BSA has to be concerned with keeping up with changing times. This makes sense. Creating interest and attracting new members is contingent on the assurance that what Scouting provides is YOUTH-RELEVANT! But, amidst the wide spectrum of diverse, new offerings available in today’s Scouting program, I even further maintain there’s always an irresistible fascination with what can be termed, “Old School Scouting,” i.e. the magical way things were done in the woods before the advent of all the mesmerizing, modern technology in the forefront of today’s society.

Lord Baden-Powell / Ernest Thompson Seton / Daniel Carter Beard
Lord Baden-Powell                   Ernest Thompson Seton                  Daniel Carter Beard

As evidenced in the present BSA literature and advancement program, there is a pronounced de-emphasis in traditional camping approaches—both in the front and backwoods. It is undeniable, and it appears we are straying further and further away from the traditions provided by BSA’s founders: Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard. I wrinkle my brow and ask, “Where’s all that great information and those inspiring descriptions illustrated by photos of real Scouts lighting a fire with a bow and drill or flint and steel, cooking a meal without utensils over a wood fire, or building a bridge using only ropes and poles over a creek?” It’s both irrelevant and a copout to simply dismiss or try to explain away this “dumbing down” of timeless campcraft skills by pointing to the principles of Leave No Trace. There is no correlation!

Once again, I maintain these and NUMEROUS other useful and fun techniques and activities can and still do contribute to the real appeal of even modern-day Scouting. It’s apparent, hand in hand with the world-class skateboard park at the Summit, the exciting addition of the STEM/Nova program, and all the “high adventure for the mind” merit badges like space exploration, digital technology, and robotics, a large population of today’s Scouts are STILL greatly enamored with acquiring the skill sets revolving around wilderness survival, the building of an impressive pioneering structure, and the creation of an awesome campsite. (See “Ideal Camp According to Baden-Powell” ) When it comes to hearing the “Voice of the Scout,” let’s make sure our youth are given the opportunity to choose that special outdoor voice that always has been and still is at the very heart of the experiences our movement has offered since our beginnings—the kind of rewarding, basic and challenging experiences that can only be found in Scouting!


NOTE: Nothing is being proposed that would even remotely affect or conflict with low impact camping and the principles of Leave No Trace!

Larry Green